Small but Mighty Microbe

Gallionella ferruginea

 The bacteria of the genus Gallionella belong to the so-called "iron bacteria," which some say literally ‘eat nails.’  Iron bacteria obtain energy for growth by oxidizing a form of iron called ferrous iron (Fe+2) to ferric iron (Fe+3).  They have been found everywhere from groundwater to wetlands and deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

Gallionella was first described in the late 1800s.  These bacteria as a group have been known to clog drains, water pipes, and wells with deposits of iron oxide compounds.  Gallionella ferruginea is often found in iron-bearing mineral springs, water works, wells, and drainages, especially underground drainages in regions near the groundwater table. While it had traditionally been found in fresh water and low-temperature habitats, it has also been found in salt water, marine bays, and thermal springs with temperatures up to roughly 50°C.

The science team named the hydrothermal vent field north of Jan Mayen "Gallionella Garden" after the bacteria found there called Gallionella ferruginea (left photo).  G. ferruginea oxidizes iron for energy, and is often found in the branching stalk formations you see blown up in the SEM micrographs on the right (scanning electron microscope that gives a bird's eye view of the bacterial structure).

(Note: Information adapted from the online version of The Prokaryotes, 1994-2004. Springer-Verlag, New York, LLC.  Hans H. Hanert, The Genus Gallionella. 


Interested in learning more.....?

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for the article by Carl Wirsen (Oceanographer Emeritus, Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA)

Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?
Recent discoveries hint at a potentially huge and diverse subsurface biosphere.